Gordon Strachan has known, ever since the night when the contents of a tea urn were deposited down his back at half-time during an insipid Aberdeen performance in Romania, the force of nature that Sir Alex Ferguson can become on European occasions.
But it was the prospect of the players that his former manager will field tonight which had the Celtic manager holding his head in his hands yesterday. His problem is one of size. Seven of his likely starting XI are under 6ft and though it was Strachan who recently described Scotland as a "nation of wee men" he was forced to admit yesterday that "we're actually trying to sign Snow White to lead my players out at Old Trafford."
The match would have assumed less of a David and Goliath aspect had his two main strikers, Georgios Samaras and Jan Venegoor of Hesselink, not succumbed to injury. His only remaining front-line option appears to be Scott McDonald, so jet-lagged after travelling 10,000 miles to play for Australia in Brisbane that he only lasted an hour in the win at Inverness on Saturday. Even the back four is looking a little on the small side, with Strachan contemplating playing the 6ft 2in centre-half Glenn Loovens at right-back just to give his side some elevation. "It's not just Ferdinand and Vidic," Strachan said. "You've got Fletcher who's a giant, Berbatov, Ronaldo can leap, John O'Shea is big."
At 5ft 6in Strachan is actually smaller than any of his players but if only it were him and Sir Alex Ferguson out there on the turf tonight, then he reckons he could do something. "If we are playing one-for-one in the middle of the park, then I'll beat him," he said. "I'm fitter than him, there's no doubt about it. He wasn't a good defender and I was quite a good attacker so it will be no problem. So if it was me and him playing tomorrow then I would be delighted. But unfortunately he has a lot of world class players behind him."
Strachan knew that particular joust would find its way back to Ferguson, a manager who made him and irritated him in equal measure at Aberdeen. (Strachan marched out of a party thrown to celebrate the Dons' Scottish Cup win in 1981 because Ferguson was so negative about the team's performance). But the Celtic manager does not fancy a one-on-one against Ferguson's players. "Scary" was the word he used to describe them during a pre-match discussion in which he was curiously downbeat. "They've got pace, power, height, ability, determination. I'm not being cheeky but I don't know if any of my players have that."